Sam Lipsyte’s darkly humorous Venus Drive is, in our opinion, one of the greatest short story collections of the past 25 years. Gordon Lish was also a fan. In his blurb for Lipsyte’s book, Lish advises young readers to “wise up. Try out Lipsyte. Walk around with his stories. See if they look good on you. Drop the name. Say Lipsyte. The gang of them, they’ll stare and say who, who? Which is where you’ll already be so far ahead of the game.” Get ahead of the game and read Lipsyte’s early essay from Nerve’s archives, first appearing in 2002.
It wasn’t what you’d call a four-way. It was more like a two-by-four. It was high school in New Jersey and whatever that means to you. We were parked in my Dodge Dart up on some hillock, some ridge, some parking lot precipice, one of those places people go when they have to have their happiness in cars.
It was my senior year and what that meant to me was I was finally getting out of here, this goddamn town, where everyone was so narrow-minded and small-hearted, where the purpose of life was to crush the life out of you. Later, of course, I realized I was the one who was narrow-minded and small-hearted, but how could I know that then? That’s what the crushing’s for.
Anyway, we were parked up there on make-out monticule, humper’s hill, whatever it was called. It was me and my girlfriend in the front seat, my best friend and his girlfriend in the back. We had the radio on and I’m sure some by-now-resuscitated pop monstrosity was pumping through the speakers, drowning out our grunts, our sighs. Everything was going swimmingly except for one hitch: I wanted the other girlfriend, and I knew she wanted me.
See, my girlfriend was sweet and smart and sexy. I’m sure she still is. My best friend was sweet and smart and had good pot. I’m sure he still does. But his girlfriend, the one in the back seat, she was the one I wanted, the one I used to conjure whenever I did my bedroom conjuring act with hair gel, a tube sock. I’d been lusting after her a long time. Sometimes, I was certain, she sent me little lusting looks, too—not come hithers, maybe, but not get losts, either. My girlfriend sat behind her in homeroom, so all these looks, they got complicated sometimes.
Plus she was my best friend’s girlfriend. There is a by-now-resuscitated musical ode to this predicament, this precipice, isn’t there? I was small-hearted, but not that small-hearted. I tried to leave all these thoughts behind in the tube sock under my bed, concentrate on this sweet girl in my arms.
Making out is one thing, but the first time you have sex in front of other people (assuming there is a first time), or at least in the vicinity of other people, with only a torn-up car seat between your coupling and, say, another coupling, a strange thing occurs. Something goes dead inside of you. Then something comes alive. Maybe some odd exchange has taken place between different kinds of holiness. Or maybe it’s just that things have gotten really complicated.
Here I was on top of my girlfriend, inside of my girlfriend, us rocking gently together now. I heard these breathy woman-y moans from the other side of the seat. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my best friend’s girlfriend with her head thrown back, her shoulders rolling as she rode my best friend.
I was going to come.
I was going to come because I really wanted to fuck my best friend. Probably, but not that night. That night I wanted only her, even if it could only be a little part of her, even just a little symbolic part of her.
“I’m going to come,” I said.
My best friend’s girlfriend moaned and nodded to me. Come hither, come hither. I put out my hand and she took it, our fingers laced together near the headrest. We came at the same time.
A year later my now–ex-girlfriend phoned me out of the blue to tell me what a shit I was. Shrink’s orders.
“You’re right, you’re right,” I said.
This was about the time I’d finally gotten together with the other girl. She was beautiful as ever. We got too drunk and I spent the night pulling on my softness, apologizing.
I run into my ex-best friend every once in a while. He doesn’t need a shrink to know I’m a shit. I want to ask him if he saw me holding his girlfriend’s hand that night, and if anything changed for him, if anything went dead or alive or if any holiness was exchanged, if he’s been feeling the long crushing, too, but we’d need good pot for all that. We’d have to still be friends.